Superintendent: State of South Portland schools is global

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SOUTH PORTLAND — School Superintendent Ken Kunin touched on English language learners, new school construction and the school lunch program during the State of the Schools annual address Monday night.

Kunin spoke for just under an hour to crowd of about three dozen, mostly school principals and and city councilors. He also talked about a new website the district is about to unveil, among other topics.

Kunin said city schools have the fourth-highest number of English language learners in the state, growing from 167 in 2012 to 271 this school year.

Three percent of the state’s school population are English language learners. Of the 3 percent, 70 percent of the students live in five cities, he said: Portland, Lewiston, Westbrook, South Portland, and Auburn, in that order.

English language learners make up 8.9 percent of the local student population and speak 32 languages, including French, Arabic, Spanish, Somalian, Vietnamese, Portuguese and Chinese.

“Our students come from every corner of the globe,” Kunin said.

The highest percentage of English language learners attend Skillin Elementary School, making up 16.4 percent of the student body. The lowest percentage was 1 percent at Small Elementary.

Kunin said having a diverse student population is a “tremendous asset” and brings educational and economic benefits to the district.

The district has hired an additional English language learner teacher and an education technician, bringing the total to nine English language learner teachers and two education technicians. 

He said enrollment projections are steady for the next five years, with the district having just over 3,000 students.

Meanwhile, South Portland is still contemplating whether to build a new middle school or renovate the two middle schools, Mahoney and Memorial, although there were no new developments Monday.

Kunin says if they choose to renovate the two schools, Mahoney Middle School would receive state funding, but Memorial Middle School renovations would have to be paid for by city taxpayers. Combining the two middle schools into one, either at a new site or at an existing site, would receive state funding.  

Mahoney Middle School, at 240 Ocean St., is a 92,000-square-foot building that was built in 1922, and has 309 students as of the Oc1. 1, 2016 subsidy count. Memorial Middle School, at 120 Wescott Road, which was built in 1967 and has 94,000 square feet, has 400 students as of the October count. 

Kunin said he wants to raise awareness of free and reduced meal programs, as there are many families who don’t realize they qualify. 

“Our goal is to give everyone who qualifies to get access to free and reduced programs,” the superintendent said. “A family of four earning $45,000 still qualifies for reduced meal programs.”

Kunin said the School Department will be launching a new website “to improve communication and access to information about our schools.” It will feature a better design,  information will be easier to locate, it will be more timely and contain a scroll for upcoming events. 

Attendance levels are high at all South Portland schools, Kunin said. The elementary school daily attendance ranges from 96 to 97 percent, while the the two middle school attendance numbers are at 96 percent and the high school at 91 percent. Middle school and high school attendance are taken by period.

“Students like coming to our schools,” he said. 

Melanie Sochan can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow her on Twitter @melaniesochan.

South Portland School Department Superintendent of Schools Ken Kunin speaks during the State of the Schools 2016-17 address on Monday evening.